The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Work Habits

USA Today reports on a national study of college students:
Full-time college students on average study 15 hours a week, but averages varied by academic majors, says the survey, released today by the National Survey of Student Engagement, based on a spring survey of 416,000 freshmen and seniors at 673 colleges and universities nationwide.

Engineering seniors studied the most, 19 hours on average, and business and social science majors studied the least, about 14 hours. A companion survey found that faculty expectations for study time by major corresponded closely to what students reported. One exception: Social science faculty expected students to spend about 18 hours a week, four more hours than students reported.

This comes as no surprise to most of us who have engineering degrees.
Thinking back, I seem to recall that I spent far more than 19 hours a week studying, solving homework problems, and doing lab work. But then again, that was a long time ago, and memory fades.

Engineering students can’t rely on rote memorization to excel. There were times when I remembered every fact in a chapter, but still did poorly on the exam. Almost every engineering student can remember the nightmare landscape of entering an exam prepared, but still being unable to “see” how to solve a particular problem.

All of the extra study (33 percent more than business or social sciences students) is about learning how to dissect a problem, learning how to understand the core elements that must be solved, learning how to select an appropriate approach that will result in a solution, learning how to craft the solution, and then, implement it without error. In essence, all of those study hours teach engineering students how to think in an organized way. The best students go beyond that and learn to create innovative and creative solutions.

Maybe that’s why many engineers have trouble with the weak problem-solving skills exhibited by our national political leadership on both sides of the aisle. If you check, you’ll find quite a few lawyers are in positions of political leadership. I suspect that if you were to take a poll, as undergraduates most those lawyers never learned how to solve problems—they never had to. Now, they’re very good at talking about problems, but not very good at solving them. Maybe they should have taken a few basic engineering course and studied just a bit more.